The Untold Story of the Talking Book
Are audiobooks books? Does listening to an audiobook constitute reading? In exploring these controversies, Matthew Rubery’s The Untold Story of the Talking Book shows that these seemingly modern questions have been hotly debated among the blind population — the original audience for audiobooks — and publishers since Edison’s invention of the phonograph.
Although initially afforded some legitimacy because their intended audience had no other way to read, audiobooks had their detractors, including some blind readers, who, among other things, objected to the way books were selected for recording. Here, Mr. Rubery excels at exploring the nuances of the earliest controversies, distinguishing, for instance, between the book selection committee’s rejection of censorship and their refusal to record certain books due to limited funding, although his analysis loses some of its insight as it crosses the Atlantic. That’s because, despite their “parallel trajectories,” he treats the early development of the audiobook in the US and Britain as two separate chapters, rendering them repetitive. But still, while the audiobook’s recent commercialization has only intensified the debates over its legitimacy, Mr. Rubery reminds us that the audiobook’s value is derived from this controversy, demanding from us reconsideration of what exactly it means to read.
Harvard University Press